Opposition urges Paraguay’s president to step aside, tend health; aides suspicious

By Belen Bogado, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ill, Paraguay president faces calls to step aside

ASUNCION, Paraguay — A new health crisis for Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has many urging him to put his well-being before his presidency — a seemingly helpful suggestion the president’s aides say is actually an effort to push him out of power.

Lugo, who is fighting cancer, was rushed to a top Brazilian hospital Saturday after doctors detected a blood clot near his heart. Physicians at Sao Paulo’s Hospital Sirio Libanes said that the clot disappeared after emergency treatment and he was moved from intensive to regular care on Monday.

Smiling and optimistic, Lugo said Tuesday that the new studies had found no sign of the apparently low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma tumors he has been treated for.

“I’m forgetting about the cancer at least,” he told reporters at the hospital. “I believe we are going to return healthy to Paraguay.”

It’s at least the third health scare this year for Lugo, 59, a center-left leader who has maintained friendly relations both with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and with the United States. He had prostate surgery in January and was diagnosed with cancer in August.

Lugo planned to return home to his duties Wednesday, with no restrictions on his agenda, according to the presidential website.

But many voices — mostly his opponents — note he still faces chemotherapy treatments and the risk of complications. They say he should take a leave of office to focus on getting better first.

Loyalists are suspicious of the sudden concern for Lugo’s health from politicians who have several times tried to impeach the president, who has few strong allies in Congress. A leave of absence would turn power over to Vice President Federico Franco, whose party has sometimes clashed with Lugo.

“There are sectors who want to knock Lugo down, but the president will not leave office,” Lugo’s chief of staff, Miguel Lopez Perito, told Radio 780 on Tuesday.

Opposition politicians, and even some relatives, suggest that Lugo’s aides have tried to minimize the president’s illness.

The president’s niece, Mirtha Maidana, who visited him when Lugo was hospitalized in Asuncion on Saturday, accused his staff of trying to hide the president’s real health condition.

“His entourage was more worried about their positions than the president’s health; it was unfortunate,” she told Radio 970.

Foreign Minister Hector Lacognata told reporters that the president was in a “process of recovery” just hours before he was flown urgently to Brazil.

Although the president’s own doctors said the thrombosis was life-threatening, Lopez Perito described it during a Monday news conference as “a relatively simple problem that was treated with medication.”

Since starting chemotherapy in August, Lugo has done little to reduce his official workload and has continued to attend crowded public events, though his doctors had urged him to avoid crowds so as not to contract an infection.

Retired Gen. Lino Cesar Oviedo, an opposition party leader, has urged Lugo to focus on his cancer treatments and leave Franco in charge, because “health issues have no time or date” and “the nation cannot be left in improvised hands.”

Lugo’s doctors say they have cleared him for a full schedule, apart from the crowds. But Dr. Carmelo Gonzalez Doldan, who cared for three previous Paraguayan presidents, said that political pressures come into play when a head of state gets ill.

“If you are a guy who is not in the position he is in, you obviously take some time off after these events. But he has the pressure of his position and the political pressure of his entourage to not take the rest he medically needs.”

“The medical optimization of a head of state is always politically damaging to him, and this is what is happening,” Gonzalez added.

Under the constitution, the president can stay abroad — as in the Brazilian hospital — for only five days before he must ask Congress for permission to remain longer.

Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, took office in August 2008. His term ends in August 2013.

(This version CORRECTS a word in the lead to ’seemingly’ instead of ’seemly.’ lead.)

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